By Sean McAdam
NEW YORK -- A year ago, Josh Beckett's worst season in the big leagues seemed to begin with a poor start against the New York Yankees.
The Red Sox starter slipped on a wet mound during a rainy night on May 18, wrenching his back and sending his spiraling season into disappointment.
It would be more than two months before Beckett would pitch again after that fateful night, and even then, he wasn't very good. In five starts against the Yankees, Beckett was 1-2 with a 10.64 ERA.
This year, in stark contrast, Beckett has re-established himself as an elite pitcher. He sports a microscopic ERA of 1.75 and has a current scoreless streak of 18 innings.
And, though wouldn't you know it, it may well have been a start against the Yankees in the second week of the season that keyed his turnaround.
That dominance continued Saturday night when Beckett blanked the Yankees on four hits over six innings, pacing the Red Sox 6-0 win over New York.
The Sox have beaten the Yankees four times in 2011; twice, Beckett has been the pitcher of record.
"That's a tough lineup,'' said Beckett. "There's not many holes there.''
Beckett, however, has toyed with the Yankees twice in two starts. In his first home start on April 10, he allowed just two hits over eight innings while striking out 10.
Saturday, with his pitch count pushed upward, he was going to go out for the bottom of the seventh until his teammates took a 2-0 lead and made it 6-0 in the top of the inning.
By then, there was nothing left to prove.
The same guy seemingly incapable of beating the Yankees last year now suddenly can't lose.
What's most impressive -- and encouraging, for the Red Sox -- is that Beckett took a different approach to the Yankees this time than he did when he faced them the first time.
"I didn't have the curve ball that I had when I faced them in Boston,'' said Beckett. "We kept throwing it, though. I felt like I made pitches when I needed to.''
"Tonight, we made some adjustments,'' echoed catcher Jason Varitek. "We pitched a little bit different than we did the first time. He had a good changeup and we were able to use it to both the lefties and righties.''
Working out of jams in the first inning -- two on, none out -- third -- two on, two out -- and fifth innnig -- two on, one out -- were all keys, but none was more important than wiggling out of trouble in the first.
Just two hitters in, with a single to center by Derek Jeter and a line single to right by Curtis Granderson, the Yankees already had as many hits as they gathered in eight innings when they faced him last month.
"The most important out in those innings is the first,'' said Beckett. "It's a lot harder to manufacture a run with one out that it is than no outs.''
So Beckett's strikeout of Mark Teixeira -- followed in short order by a popup by Alex Rodriguez and another strikeout to Robinson Cano -- started it out.
The Yankees didn't know it, but their best chance had come and gone in the first inning. After that, Beckett allowed just four more baserunners over his final five innings. No Yankee reached third base against him.
"It's nice to pitch,'' said Beckett, allowing himself the smallest bit of satisfaction. "It would have been a little bit better if I could eliminate a walk and pitched into the seventh.''
Those are the words of a perfectionist. But if you're looking for evidence that Beckett is again a front-of-the-rotation starter, you need look no further than his results against the team against whom he could do no right a year ago.